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What is Journalism? Who is a Journalist?

The Columbia Journalism Review solicited answers to the question “What is Journalism for?”   The CJR editors wrote

In his 1999 book, What Are Journalists For?, which told the story of the civic-journalism movement, Jay Rosen suggested that the question in the title is one our society must ask itself periodically, as times change and the demands on and of journalism change with them. Now is one of those moments. Everything about our profession is up for debate. Congress is arguing about the definition of “journalist”; startups are experimenting with new business models and ways to deliver news to a mobile audience; people all over the world who don’t call themselves journalists are using social media and smartphones to record, broadcast, and comment on “news”…

The relationship between the press and the public has shifted in the new century. The one-way flow of information has become a free-for-all, and the professionals have lost some authority. Civic journalism was about making the public a partner with professional journalism in an effort to identify and address problems that affect us all. It was resisted by much of the journalistic establishment, who considered it an abdication of their duty to “tell the people what they need to know,” and it petered out soon after Rosen’s book appeared.

CJR received dozens of responses from the likes of Peggy Noonan, Chris Hayes, Nat Hentoff, Marc Ambinder, and Ira Glass.

The one response that stood out to me was from Matt Welch, Editor-in-Chief of Reason Magazine:

Want to circumvent, at long bloody last, the tedious, multi-decade debate over who is and isn’t a journalist? Repeat after me: Journalism is an activity, not a profession. It may be a calling for many of us, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a legitimate side-hobby for many millions more, including (shudder) those who don’t share our basic set of sourcing traditions or political assumptions. Journalism is writing headlines and ledes, sharing photographs and jokes, discussing politics, advancing conversations, providing eyewitness testimony and independent verification. We’re lucky to live in a time when so many are doing what we love.

For me, that pretty much nails it.  It also describes what we do here at Watchdog Wire.  We’re the civic journalism hobbyists doing what we love, and reporting the news beyond the establishment journalists telling the people “what they need to know.”

Looking at you Washington Post and Baltimore Sun.

Whether it’s refuting Governor O’Malley’s lies about budget cuts, the myth of underfunded schools, or how the General Assembly really votes, the citizen journalists of Watchdog Wire Maryland are the practitioners of civic journalism.

The advent of the Internet, social media, and abundant sources of easily accessible data has allowed citizen journalists to circumvent the professionals, who deign to tell us (most of the time on behalf of the political establishment) what we needed to know.

Mark Newgent

Mark Newgent is a contributing editor to Red Maryland, the premiere blog of conservative politics in the Free State, voted one of the best state political blogs by the Washington Post two years in a row. His writing has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Washington Examiner, National Review Online, and more. Twitter: @MarkNewgent

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